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Avoid the mouse trap: Old habits wreck new tech

Mike Elgan | July 10, 2017
Powerful new UIs are becoming desirable and necessary. But how do you get people to use them?

The truth is, broadly speaking, MPG is a superior interface to WIMP. But few users want to move to MPG on the desktop, because they've spent their adult lives building muscle memory around keyboards, mice and trackpads.

Right now, we're kind of wallowing in a user interface free-for-all. And because of choice in the market and the fact that all our devices are radically multi-purpose, we have that luxury.

That luxury won't last. New technologies will force enterprises to choose between familiar-and-inefficient or new-and-ideal interfaces.


The coming challenge of voice and in-the-air gestures

Two of the biggest technologies affecting enterprises now and for the next five years are A.I. virtual assistants and augmented reality. The spoken word as an interface is about to explode in practical use, thanks to machine learning, which enables chat systems to figure out what you're trying to say rather than forcing you to speak exact commands.

Any virtual assistant or chatbot application can be theoretically interacted with via typed text or spoken word.

Speech is vastly more natural, efficient, fast and hands-free. But habit compels the average employee to interact with typing, if the choice exists. So without intervention, the efficiency opportunity around chatbots and virtual assistants will be missed.

Augmented reality is another opportunity. Over the next two years, we'll see massive development of augmented reality apps, most of which will be used on phones and tablets. Over time, however, smart glasses will take over. To a large extent, this is already happening in industrial and factory settings. What hasn't happened yet is the inevitable, in-the-air gesture control for objects in augmented reality.

hololens designer collaboration 

An image showing what it could look like for two designers collaborating on a single digital model using HoloLens

When virtual objects or texts are floating in space in front of your field of vision, the most natural and efficient interaction comes from reaching out and manipulating them directly.

The initial controls for smart glasses are likely to give users options -- both the familiar interfaces (touchpads and others) and ideal (in-the-air gestures). As with speech, the in-the-air gesture interface will be ignored because of early habits around touch screen, unless special action is taken.


How Apple breaks interface habits

Now that the confetti is being swept off the floor after Apple's 10 year anniversary of the iPhone, it's helpful to think back on Apple's incredible feat of social engineering -- breaking the world's habit of using phones with physical keyboards.

Microsoft's then-CEO Steve Ballmer was famously asked in 2007 about the iPhone's chances for success. After laughing at the outrageous $500 price, Ballmer expressed the conventional wisdom of the time: "It doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine."


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